NDP accuses Sask. government of 'very shady' attempt to 'ram through' CNIB/Brandt Wascana Park building
Opposition wants PCC to start over with approval for controversial project
The NDP Opposition says the fact the Saskatchewan government-controlled Provincial Capital Commission isn't requiring public consultation about which tenants will occupy the CNIB/Brandt building in Wascana Park seems "very shady."
The controversial four-storey office building proposed to replace the former CNIB headquarters in Regina's Wascana Park was halted last March in the midst of controversy because CNIB's partner, Brandt Developments, was planning to lease the building to types of tenants that appeared to be disallowed under the park's rules.
Brandt, one of the Saskatchewan Party's most significant donors, is planning to give some of the 77,000-square-foot building to charities like CNIB and the MS Society rent and utilities free, while leasing the rest at market rates.
Wascana Park rules say all development must be consistent with the five pillars outlined in the park's master plan, which are education, culture, environment, recreation and the seat of government.
But critics noted Brandt indicated it was looking for, among other things, general office tenants, restaurants and potentially retail.
The provincial auditor was called in to review the project, which was suspended until the auditor's report was completed.
The PCC, which runs the park, is controlled by a five person board with a majority of members appointed by the province.
The auditor found that it failed to document how the CNIB/Brandt project conforms to park rules. She also indicated the PCC's public consultation process was inadequate.
Just last week, the provincial government-controlled PCC said the proposed building can once again start moving through the approval process. The PCC also did not require public consultation on the proposed tenants in the building.
"Why do they feel the need to ram through this project as is?" asked the NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer.
"The way that the PCC and the minister have pushed forward this Brandt project looks very shady and it's left a lot of questions in the public."
Public consultation inadequate: Sarauer
Sarauer says the public has never been consulted about which tenants will be in the building, despite the fact that's required by law for developments in the park.
CNIB and Brandt did hold a public meeting to discuss the project in August 2016.
In their advertisement for the event, they noted this consultation was required because their project didn't conform to Wascana Park rules on the issue of how the building would be used.
Yet a review of the transcript of the meeting shows that Brandt and CNIB did not present their plans for tenancy in the building, aside from noting that CNIB and other charities would be moving in.
CNIB says from its perspective, that satisfies the requirement for "public consultation."
In an interview last week, CNIB executive director Christall Beaudry said "we did complete the public consultation piece in 2016," and said "engagement is what we're looking at right now."
In fact, in the CNIB's news release about the PCC's decision to allow the project to move forward, the organization insisted it had always toed the government's line.
"At every stage of the process, we've diligently followed the requirements and procedures set out by the relevant authorities, and will be happy to continue doing so."
However, in the PCC's Feb. 7 news release announcing the project was back on, there was an acknowledgement of a lack of consultation on the crucial issue of tenancy.
"The proponent is also asked to conduct additional public communications and engagement to discuss the benefits of the project and engage regarding the land-use of the complete building rather than just the CNIB portion of the building," says the Feb. 7 release.
Sarauer said that while the PCC correctly noted the failure to consult, it has not required CNIB and Brandt to remedy that by holding a public consultation.
Instead, it asked only for "public communications and engagement" about the "benefits of the project."
Sarauer said that's inadequate.
"We are calling for meaningful public consultation before this project can go forward. That includes a two-way dialogue — meaningful public input into the future of this building," she said.
Tenancy plans 'very preliminary': minister
The minister responsible for the Provincial Capital Commission, Lori Carr, told CBC PCC couldn't require CNIB and Brandt to hold additional public consultations because they have already passed that step in the approval process.
But, she notes, some consultation has been done.
"They did do some consulting correct in the first in the first phases of this project, and they've heard feedback. Now, as they go through the detailed design phase, they'll build that feedback into what they're developing."
They don't have any specifics and we haven't seen any specifics as to exactly what is going to be in that building.- Lori Carr , minister responsible for the PCC
The minister said the PCC currently has almost no idea how the CNIB/Brandt building will be used.
"What we've seen so far is very, very preliminary. They don't have any specifics and we haven't seen any specifics as to exactly what is going to be in that building," Carr said.
In other words, she explained, she doesn't know what specific businesses, or even specific categories of businesses, are being proposed for this building.
That is a puzzling claim.
For more than a year, Brandt's realtor has been publicly saying the building could house a wide range of tenants.
A listing on the website of the commercial real estate company Colliers identifies "potential uses (but not limited to)" such as:
- Government offices.
- Education use.
- Medical lab/ vision care professionals.
- Professional office.
- Recreation clubs/physio.
- Non-profit organizations.
In addition, CNIB's website promoting the project says "the tenancy plan may include commercial tenants. These could include a coffee shop, retail or some office space."
On top of that, the government has a contract with CNIB which explicitly allows a wide range of tenants in the building "including but not limited to general office tenants the nature of whose activities does not unduly detract from the activities of other tenants."
- Sask. government's deal with CNIB allows for 'almost anything' on Wascana Park land: Regina Councillor
Carr said in principle, she has no difficulty with additional commercial projects in Wascana, noting "we already have different forms of commercial development in the park."
She pointed to The Willow restaurant as an example. CBC asked if she had any other examples. She didn't.
Carr said the future tenancy of this building will remain a mystery until the entire detailed design plan has been reviewed by the Wascana Park Architectural Advisory Committee.
Carr said the AAC will be asking a big-picture question about this project.
"They're going to look at how that building as a whole, based on the different types of occupancy that are going to take place in there, and how that can be an overall benefit and how that can fit in with the five pillars" in the park's master plan, Carr said.
She said once the committee has done its review, the final decision will be up the the Provincial Capital Commission board.
"They can make a decision based on the entire picture of what that building will encompass. And at the end of the day, they'll decide if it has a net overall benefit for the community."